2014 France, Spain & Portugal Letter 4

Wednesday, 10 September 2014 1:00 pm

Living in Lisbon, but too much happening and no time to report!

 

O.K. All ready?

Sorry for not reporting in sooner, but emails of complaint?????? Some of you are just too hard on us elderly travellers!

We are in Lisbon, Portugal, and I’m one very happy little (biggish) chappie! We went to a flea market up by Saint Vincent’s Church and for the first half hour I was more concerned about actually catching fleas! Jesus, Mary & Joseph, just where do these people find this crap, or rather pinch it? Truly ugly clothing, bad home wares, even more worrying jewelry; and do not even get me started on the truck loads of tie dyed scarves! Anyway we persisted. The only way out was to keep going forwards!

We then more or less ‘hit’ an area with some half passable antiques and bibs and bobs, when I spied some plates. Now all of you, well nearly all, have been fed and watered at some stage in the past 40 years by moi. Well, the dinner set that I love above all others is my ‘Geranium’ dinner set. It’s “Casa Pupo”, a London design company who ‘did’ home wares in the 70’s and 80’s, but much of it was sourced from Spain, Italy and Portugal.

In a previous life, my much loved partner David, (yes there was an eight year period of “David & David”. Himself was going through a much briefer period of “Michael & Michael”; but then he had no staying power until I appeared on his scene), gave me a platter for a birthday or Christmas. David was not quite as attached to the design as I was, and I think he hoped that by giving me one platter I’d get over it, but no, I immediately put a ten person set on ‘lay-by’ (gosh, do they do lay-by now?).

Anyway this is getting far too convoluted even for me!

I suddenly spied seven side plates and seven entrée plates of a design that complements my slightly diminished ten person set. A guest had dropped a side plate on his honeymoon at “old” Thorn Park, and a former local winemaker, Tim Knappstein, had broken a platter on the 25th anniversary of his Clare Valley winemaking career. Thankfully, there were two platters still remaining at that stage. Then Himself dropped three side plates, but never owned up until months later; so I have been looking for nearly 20 years for replacements!

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Doing the ‘deal’ with my newest best friend at the flea market up by Saint Vincent’s Church

So we now have fourteen plates to lug home, and I’m 55 euros lighter; and I was prepared to pay that much per plate! Happy, happy chappie!

Well, after that bit of ancient history, let’s get back to the Spain and travel monologue. We left San Sebastian reasonably early, but not so late – we joined the peak hour traffic! Just have to love Spanish and Portuguese roads, we (well, I) did nearly 800 kilometers in two days, and only 20 kilometers were on single lane roads. The rest were two to three lane numbers! Sure we paid the national debt in tolls, but who cares?

Day one we drove from San Sebastian to Ciudad Rodrigo, near the border. We had no real expectations other than a ‘nice’ bed at “Parador de Ciudad Rodrigo”. Paradores are the Spanish version of very nice B&B hotels, normally some 800-year-old castle, monastery or such. The Portuguese do something similar, but call them “Pousadas”. Think recycled history and you get the picture.

Thankfully, Himself goes to sleep on long trips. He thinks the hum of the car is like ‘a return to the womb’, so he slumbers a lot, which means I can ‘drive’ a lot! Normal speed limit is 120km/hour, but no self-respecting Spaniard does that: they travel at 160, 170, and 180 Kms., and that’s in the slow lane! I sort of fit in the middle…. If they have speed cameras, I might just have a bill and a half when we get home, but it will be worth it!

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Spanish ‘roads’ and the co-driver.

“Ciudad Rodrigo” is the normal European schizophrenic town: think new, think beige, think boring, but the ‘old’ bit – think O.T.T. history on a stick! Staying at the Parador meant not only were we doing ‘old’, but we were top of the ‘olds’. So, “Ms. Satellite Navigation” drove us in the south gate.

The poor tourists just flattened themselves against the walls as Himself and I drove in, to be confronted by a ’truck’ stuck in front of my beloved ‘bollards’! Fear not, we did a lot of backing and forwarding in with the help of 9 or 10 people giving directions, all different, all so helpful!

The damage to the car was superficial. Damage to the ego, slightly deeper. On and on we went, but at every turn was a frigging bollard, so we took a gate out and then did a drive over a very old road which I think might be a UNESCO site. I realized it was leading nowhere, so I back tracked and re-entered the city (well big town) only to hit the bollards yet again, so Himself took things into his own hands, jumped out and asked the local man in uniform, a very un-cute policeman, for ‘advice’. The long and the short of it was, we had a ‘police escort’ to the hotel.

Impressive, just wish the police had flags and used their horns more! [No one knew we were being “escorted”!]

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Our ‘police’ escort through the old city of Ciudad Rodrigo

The Parador Ciudad Rodrigo was/is very nice, very medieval; and we had a room with a view. It really was a bed for the night, so no real expectations for dinner. The Parador’s menu was severely lacking, so I did a Trip Advisor search and found another restaurant; ‘Zascandil’. It was in a little “correo” (think, corridor) near the Parador; almost more café than restaurant. Still no great expectations. Well, how wrong can one be, it’s probably the best meal of the holiday! Think tapas meets Pintxos. We asked if we could just order ‘tastes’. Well, we started with Carpaccio of salted cod – on our way to heaven!

Then arrived this ‘Bulbous’ in its own little bell cover, described as “crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside” and was more or less a ball shaped ‘thing’, deep fried, with a thin skin of potato stuffed with foie gras, truffle, fig and mushroom.

We had now ascended into heaven!

A fresh porcini mushroom crostini number (I’m sure the Spanish have their own name), some croquettes of ham, apple and a bit more truffle, and a ‘mini’ three flavoured pizza followed (think calzone but with a layer of fresh toppings on top, shaved Iberian ham, goat cheese and rocket with a tomato paste in the middle).

Deserts called, so desserts followed. His was a chocolate mousse with flakes of dark chocolate folded through, homemade ice-cream on top with mocha cream poured over it all, at the table.

Mine came in a martini glass with a base of strawberry and shortbread crumble (but no crumble has ever tasted like this one) with lashings of white chocolate mousse.

We did many wines by the glass…..thank goodness we only stayed for one night!

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‘Zascandil’ our restaurant of choice in  Ciudad Rodrigo, dishes included ‘Bulbous’ in its own bell & dessert !

We departed without the police escort, but not without ‘issues’, as I nearly attempted to drive down a gentle set of stairs but thought better of it!  We lived!

Next stop is to be Portugal, and its city of “Sintra”; home of one hundred and one ‘royal shacks’. Holiday destination of kings and queens, and prison to one king: his brother wanted the crown, so ‘brother’ locked him up until he died!

Picture perfect high country summer vacation area 30 kilometers from Lisbon. It really does ‘do’ royal holiday palaces, or shacks, depending on your own perspective.

We had received an email the day before our arrival, from “Chalet Saudade”, our bed in Sintra for the next two nights, advising us of the confusion of their address on most satellite navigation systems. It seems many people have ended up not only in the wrong street but in the wrong city! Anyway, Sintra was at least a 3.5 hour drive, so I did not fret too much, and off we went.

Three and a half hours later we arrived in the correct town. I even saw the name of our street, but as we were early I thought we should see a bit of the town.

I should explain that most streets in Sintra are one way. Many if not all are on an average incline of 35-45 degrees, normally up! Even the dual lane roads could at best be described as ‘wide’ single lane roads, many with parking on at least one side!

An hour later we had probably traveled ten kilometers, almost destroyed the gear box, leaving copious quantities of rubber on the road; but boy did I enjoy it! Himself finally relaxed and enjoyed it too!

The hills are so steep that in most places there is a six foot retaining wall on one side and then a six foot stone ‘fence’ on the other, so it can be like driving in an open tunnel. We saw most of the town, which is just like one huge botanic garden with houses and palaces popped in here and there. Surprisingly there are quite a few abandoned houses, so Himself did a bit of photographing of ‘renovators’ delights’.

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Sintra streets and Sintra traffic

We eventually found our ‘Chalet’. Like most houses in Sintra, it is two or three stories at the front and six or seven at the back. We were on level –2, meaning we were one up from the foundations and five down from the roof, with views over a forest of trees. We did an orgy of palace visiting and walking, with the occasional bus thrown in for leg rest. The Portuguese royalty seem to take to the area in summer, and converted the odd convent or Moorish castle into newer and bigger holiday shacks. Heavily tiled with the local “Azulejos” (that’s ‘Porto’ for tiles; well sort of, it’s a bit more complex than just bathroom tiles!). The royalty attracted the socially aware, so they all out did each other with spiffy shacks, and the upwardly mobile added to the mix with their medium sized shacks. Everyone did gardens!

Near the top, is Pena National Palace. It was a ruined monastery before Prince Ferdinand (Queen Vicki of England’s husband, Albert’s first cousin; just so you get the family line sorted) married Queen Maria 11th. He purchased the ruins and went on a building spree, turning it into a sort of Bavarian Romanticist Disney-land-ish summer home.  Ferdinand also did gardening. It’s on about 200 acres, but because it’s so hilly it would be closer to 300-400 acres really, and is now densely treed with an arboretum. We even found a bunya-bunya pine like ours at home!

Lower down the hill there is “Quinta da Regaleira”, another huge heap with botanic gardens (including some very fine 150 year old Norfolk Island pines, so Oz is well represented).  The original owner in the late 1800’s, Antonio Augusto Caralho Monteiro was born in Brazil to Portuguese parents and inherited a huge fortune which he promptly made even larger. Known as ‘Monteiro dos Milhoes’ (‘Monterio the Millionaire’), he spent up big!

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“Quinta da Regaleira” The ‘house’, the gardens, ‘a room with a view’ on the roof and a little chapel in the gardens….

There are also some Moorish ruins.

Nearer the main village square is an older palace that stands out because of its twin towers. It’s about a thousand years old; was the original Moorish palace but re-invented as the home for the new monarchy, and is very heavily tiled with yet more azulejos!

But back to those towers; the defining feature – think: the shape of a pair of ten pin bowling pins, only 120 feet tall and white. They are in fact the chimneys of the kitchen, home to about 30 ‘hot plates’, several room-sized ovens, a few spits, the odd warming oven, all of which were wood fired, and all just expelled their smoke up these oversized flues! There is also a seriously impressive collection of copper cookware, but my heart went out to the poor bugger who won the job of cleaning it of all the smoke stains at the day’s end!

We’d eaten well, had drunk well, with me doing my morning walks, and Himself doing his ‘sleep ins’. All in all, a very nice few days.

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Palácio Nacional de Sintra with it’s bowling pins! The kitchen stoves (well some of them) and a grand hall

Lisbon: A short drive. Well, relatively! We’d driven nearly 800 kilometers over the two days, with only about 20 of them on dual roads. Every other road was a minimum of two lanes each way, often three, and whilst the speed limit was 120kms/hour, no one seems to doddle along at that speed. “If there are speed cameras, I’m in trouble!” I thought. Three and four lane roads were the norm until we got to our little area. Suddenly those roads of Sintra looked like super highways! We are in the area of town known as Chiado. All streets are cobbled. There are tiny trams, similar but smaller than our old trams in Adelaide and in Melbourne. Often the roads here are so narrow the tram lines converge together, so the drivers have to wait for one another to pass before travelling on.

All roads go up and down quite regularly. “Our” street is so steep, we have a Funicular out- side the front door. Thankfully we found the car park, so the car is parked four floors up.

We are living five floors up, so when we need something that’s back in our car, we walk five floors down, then 300 meters along the ‘main’ road, take the elevator four floors up, to find what we need in the ‘mobile dressing room/pantry’ that sometimes gets used as a car. We have learnt the meaning of ‘travel light’ when moving into accommodation. The large cases have not been out of the car since Bordeaux. The car also is our mobile wine cellar.

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Our own private funicular at the front door. Our travelling ‘walk-in-robe’ and the only cases we take our of the car…..

We’d both had a similar reaction to Lisbon, which was originally, “What the hell are we doing here?” Only two hours later we were in love, deeply in love. O.K. it does do a bit too much graffiti, does need a scrub in places and is looking unloved in others, but we loved it. We ‘did’ the tourist thing and hopped on the ‘Hop on hop off bus’ and slowly started to ’see’ it.

We also love our patch of the city. It comes alive at night, and once you look past the slightly scruffy bits, it’s very endearing. Our pad is amazing, top floor, so I guess it’s a penthouse. We have a terrace and can see the mighty Tagus River, if you bend out and over a bit.

It’s like a loft, but streamlined although within a 200 year old building, and has everything. The owner has fitted it out as one would a ship, no space is left without a use. If you jumped up in bed in a hurry you could get concussion though, as it’s under the eaves, but we have a Nespresso Coffee machine, a dishwasher, induction hot plates, multi-function oven, a washer/dryer and a full Carrera marble bathroom with large walking in shower; and it’s light, bright and very clean.

Himself has counted seventy-eight steps between the nine stair landings to get up to it!

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Our Lisbon ‘penthouse’ complete with little roof terrace

We have now seen all the city, as we did the second half using the “Hop on hop off” buses.

There have been some mini adventures: we were ripped off by a taxi driver. Himself lost his phone; I’ve bought a new black vee-necked tee shirt; and we are far too close to one of the best makers of  “pastéis de bata” in Lisbon! What’s a pastéis de bata? It’s heaven on a plate; a tiny egg tart of puff pastry filled with a creamy sweet pastry cream, cooked until a little caramelization appears. It’s then dusted with cinnamon, so just open your mouth, pop it in and enjoy! Sadly there is no cutting of this tart, so the calories don’t fall out before you eat! To make up for the consumption of numerous such tarts during the day, I did make just a simple salad for dinner that night, and we only had one tart each for our dessert course!

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‘pastéis de bata’ -heaven on a plate……

We spent many hours at the “Museum of Azulejos”, yes a tile museum! Yet another old convent put to good use. One of the best museums we have seen! How tiles could keep us happy for three hours is hard to explain but they did.

Anyway, it’s been raining, that’s why I have found time to write, but it’s stopped. Time to get our butts into gear and go visit the Gulbenkian Museum, “Mr G” is now dead, but had made his fortune in oil, moving to Portugal during the World War II (Portugal was neutral). He built the museum, and left it to the State.

Many thanks for all your email, (even those of you who have been hassling for an update). I am not getting time to write replies, but it is nice to hear news from the New World!

Till next time

 

Himself and me!

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